Tell us about something that happened today in history, and make it relate to current science.
Courtesy alvherre at FlickrAcclaimed astrophysicist and author, Stephen Hawking, the former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge - a position once held by Sir Isaac Newton - turns 70 years old today. Stricken with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), Hawking has defied doctors by living well-past their predicted "few years" when he was first diagnosed with the disease in 1963. A celebration in Britain took place today but Hawking was ill and couldn't attend the celebration. A recorded speech by Hawking was presented instead. Despite his debilitating disorder, Professor Hawking has managed to raise a family and through the use of computers to write several best-selling books, including A Brief History of Time. Here's an interview with Hawking's biographer, Kitty Ferguson. In Great Britain, ALS is known as motor neuron disease.
Courtesy US Geological Survey Photographic LibraryToday marks the bicentennial of the start of the historic New Madrid earthquake series, which began at 2am on December 16, in 1811. The quakes were so powerful, large areas of land uplifted and sank creating new lakes and swamps, and causing islands to disappear. Large waves spawned by the tremors raked across the banks of the Mississippi causing massive landslides, and even briefly changing the course of the mighty river.
Named after the nearby river village of New Madrid in the then Louisiana Territory (now Missouri), the quake and its many aftershocks affected an area 10 times larger than the famous 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Luckily, the New Madrid area was sparsely populated when the line of strong earthquakes took place, as they were the strongest recorded earthquakes ever to take place east of the Rocky Mountains.
Earthquakes of such magnitude as those that struck New Madrid (~ 7.0) typically occur along plate boundaries - areas where one tectonic plate is colliding with another, such as along the West Coast's San Andreas Fault. The mid-section of the country sets on only one plate - the normally stable North American plate. Faults do run through it, such as the Cottonwood Grove and the Reelfoot faults which some scientists hypotheisze were responsible for the New Madrid series.
But researchers don't agree on what caused the strong intraplate earthquakes. They could have been triggered by other distant earthquakes or by the release of energy built up by the heating of the crust from an upper mantle magma plume or from isostatic rebound - that is the release of stresses caused by the retreat of glaciers that once covered the region.
Whatever the cause and despite new data being gathered by present day geologists, the New Madrid earthquakes were an historic anomaly that remain wrapped in mystery.
Lots of stories on line about last night's earthquake in Mexico that killed three people. The quote below is from a story in the Huffington Post:
The U.S. Geological Service initially estimated the quake at magnitude at 6.8, but downgraded it to 6.7 and then 6.5. A quake of that magnitude is capable of causing severe damage, although the depth of this temblor lessened its impact.
The USGS said the quake occurred at a depth of 40.3 miles (64.9 kilometers). It was centered about 26 miles (42 kilometers) southwest of Iguala in Guerrero and 103 miles (166 kilometers) south-southwest of Mexico City.
A few weeks ago, rumors were flying that BBC wasn't going to air the climate change episode of their new "Frozen Planet" series in the United States. Scientific American blogger Joanne Manaster helped start a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter to publicize what was going on how to contact BBC. The campaign appears to have been a sucess, and the complete Frozen Planet series, narrated by Alec Baldwin will debut in the U.S. on March 18th. I'll be watching.
Courtesy Mark RyanTechnically, that's not a turkey in the photo but rather a turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), a not-so-pretty avian found throughout most of the Americas. He looks like he's about to descend and tear into some fresh carcass, doesn't he? Much like many of you tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving!
Courtesy Carl Eliason Family84 years ago from today, on November 22, 1927, the first U.S. patent for a snowmobile (No. 1,650,334) was awarded to Carl Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin. Carl was an auto mechanic, blacksmith and general store owner, and he loved the outdoors. However, he struggled with a foot deformity that made it difficult to use skis or snowshoes. So he built a lightweight personal machine that could follow the narrow ski and snowshoe trails made by his friends. His "motor toboggan" had ski-like front runners controlled by a rope, a rear drive track fashioned with bicycle sprockets and chains, wooden cleats, and was powered by a 2.5-horsepower outboard motor.
Today, snowmobiling provides a winter recreational activity enjoyed by many worldwide. For years, snowmobiles had a history of noise pollution, high emissions, and poor fuel economy. However, with the implementation of the U.S. EPA's reduced emissions program phases scheduled for completion in 2012, and rising cost in fuel prices, snowmobile enthusiasts and manufacturers are now seeking ways to make snowmobiles more eco-friendly and fuel efficient. Two-stroke engines used in motorcycles, snowmobiles, chainsaws, and marine outboard motors are not as efficient as their four-stroke counterparts, but they are lighter, less complex, and easier to manufacture. Many groups are manufacturing exhaust trapping systems that dramatically reduce EPA-regulated emissions such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and NOx.
Peter Britanyak of the University of Idaho's Department of Mechanical Engineering prototyped the idea of Synchronous Charge Trapping (SCT) on a two-stroke snowmobile engine as part of his thesis for a masters degree. A second generation prototype was created by Team SHORT CIRCUIT of the University of Idaho, and a preliminary patent has been issued.
Other designs have been manufactured through the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge. In 2010, Minnesota-based manufacturer Polaris Industries teamed with University of Wisconsin-Madison to win the 2010 Clean Snowmobile Challenge. Next year, a record number of teams are expected to participate in the SAE 2012 Snowmobile Challenge, scheduled for March 5-10, 2012 at the Keweenaw Research Center of Michigan Technological University.
And research from snowmobiles and off-road vehicles is being applied to space exploration as well. Earlier this year, Quebec-based manufacturer Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. (BRP) announced that they are contributing to Canadian exploration programs of the moon and Mars. BRP will develop the chassis and locomotion systems for a Lunar Exploration Light Rover and a Mars Exploration Science Rover, from contracts awarded by the Canadian Space Agency.
Today marks the 60th anniversary of LEO (Lyons Electronic Office), the world’s first business computer, which was created by J. Lyons & Company, an organization known for operation of tea shops in Great Britain, as well as being a biscuit manufacturer and founder of the Wimpy burger chain.
After World War II ended, the increase in office costs made Lyons realize that some form of automation was needed to bring these costs under control. Before World War II, Lyons had developed a reputation for factory and office efficiency. Lyons' policy was to control their own service departments (legal, shipping, laundries, box making, food laboratories, tea estates, wine cellars, etc.), so they tackled the ambitious task of building an electronic computer, even though they had no history of electronics. Nothing was available to them at this time to meet their needs, so they set about designing and building one themselves.
LEO's first task, and the world’s first business
Courtesy LEO Computers Society
computing application, was to calculate the costs of Lyons’ weekly bakery distribution run. Previously, this task had been carried out by hand by accounts clerks. At first, LEO was unreliable, but improvements were made on a weekly basis. Two years later, in December 1953, LEO was given the important job of calculating Lyons’ payroll. A milestone was reached on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1953, when the task of calculating a employees pay took LEO only 1.5 seconds, whereas before it took an experienced clerk a total of 8 minutes.
News Article: How a chain of tea shops kickstarted the computer age
Website for LEO Computers Society: http://www.leo-computers.org.uk
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! It's finally here: 11-11-11, that special day when repeating numbers line up in some sort of mystical sequence, thus creating some very special moment in time. Can you feel the magic? Hmmm. That's odd, I'm not feeling anything particularly special. I just realized I started writing this post at 10:10 this morning (more magical alignment: 10:10 on 11/11/11! That's a whole mess of ones!) but so far that doesn''t seem to add to this special day in any way either. I wonder why that is? Maybe the timing's off what with the stupid daylight savings time and all. Indiana and Arizona may know something we don't know. Anyway, I'm hoping to finish writing this and posting it in the next hour at exactly 11:11 on 11/11/11 and when that happens - hang onto your hats - all hell is going to break loose. Well...maybe. We'll just have to wait and see.
Actually, you have no idea how long I've been I've been waiting for this day to come. For several years now, decades actually, my wife and I have had a special relationship with the digital clocks around our house exactly at the time of 11:11. It didn’t matter if it was AM or PM we just seemed to have an uncanny propensity for looking at the time when the time consisted of all ones. I suppose it's easy to put this off as coincidence. We are, after all, usually awake and mostly alert when that particular line-up of ones occurs but it has happened with such regularity that it's taken on a mythic and eerie implication.
The eeriest moment was the time I was flipping through the tv channels and stopped on an old depression-era film. In the scene, one character suddenly asked the other for the time. The other character glanced at his watch and said, "Eleven eleven." The response of course grabbed our attention. We were surprised and thought it was pretty funny. But our surprise doubled when my wife suddenly yelped "Look!" and pointed at the digital display on our DVD player. There they were, those same four slim and singular digits just uttered in the movie, marching two by two between a colon - the now even spookier (and perhaps slightly dreaded) 11:11, all in a row on the machine's digital clock!
What were we to make of this fantastic temporal and parallel alignment of the double elevens that has been hounding us all these years? Probably nothing, other than being a good story to tell at dinner parties, or as an aside on a numerologically-based blog post. Strangely, now that I think of it, it has added something to our marriage, strengthening the bond between us in a very oddball sort of way. Maybe that's the only significance it will ever have for our lives.
But holy one plus one, Batman! What are we to make of today’s incredible alignment? Today at 11:11:11am and 11:11:11pm we will experience an unprecedented (at least in this century) syzygy of the very first odd number. One minute past 11:10am we’ll all experience the incredible, once-in-a-lifetime readout of 11:11:11, 11/11/11. Think of the unity it will create in these overly disparate times! (note: technically, my use of the word syzygy isn't really proper here. A syzygy is an astronomical term regarding the conjunction or opposition of three celestial bodies such as the sun, moon and earth during solar or lunar eclipses. But eclipses are so seemingly mystical it sounds right in this context. Also, it's just a cool word - my dad, a crossword puzzler his entire life, always liked to remind me that it contained none of the conventional vowels.)
Because this strange alignment was coming our way, I started searching the internet for information about it and let me tell you, there is a lot 11:11 and 11/11/11 and other silly information out there. In fact, entire industries have grown up around the numbers. I had no idea if was such a commonly experienced phenomenon. Not that it matters. None of it has any basis in reality, it’s all mostly anecdotal data infused with spiritual or numerological significance. My favorite is the fact that the date 11/11/11 is 1 year, 1 month, and 11 days (Eek! That’s 1, 1, 11) from December 21, 2012 – the even more terrifying (although pretty much forgotten as of late) end of time according to the Mayan calendar. But wait a minute. How can December 21 be 11 days from November 11. Wouldn't it only be 10 days? That would throw water on the whole mystic mania! How can that be? Well, 2012 is a leap year, that’s why. There will be an extra day to cram in there. So see, if the numbers don’t add up you just find a way to make it happen.
Okay, I have to cut this short if I want to post it at exactly 11:11 (local time). Let's just see what happens when I do. (I'll add my links later). Here goes!
POSTSCRIPT (11:58): The only significant thing that happened when I posted this at 11:11 was my wife emerged from our bedroom (she's feeling ill today and was napping). Why did she pick that exact time to get up? Coincidence? You got me. Anyway, I went right into the kitchen to look at our digital displays and there they were - 4 ones all in a row- on the microwave, the clock radio, and the oven. The coffee maker read 3:56 but that's only because no one has bothered to properly set the time on it. I pointed out all the ones to my wife and we hugged and kissed. It was a very special moment. Wait a minute. Maybe there is something to all this 11-11 stuff after all.
Courtesy Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikimedia CommonsOn November 4, 1922, after seven fruitless years of searching, and near the end of the last season his sponsor Lord Carnarvon planned to finance, laborers for British archaeologist Howard Carter uncovered in Egypt's Valley of the Kings the entrance to the 3000 year-old tomb of King Tutankhamun, the greatest collection of Egyptian treasures ever found.